Skin cancer is the abnormal growth of cells in epidermis (outermost layer of the skin). There are three major types of skin cancer – squamous cell carcinoma, basal cell carcinoma and melanoma. If you notice suspicious changes in your skin, you should consult your doctor immediately, as early detection provides greatest chance of the successful treatment. Dr Mohit Agarwal, Additional Director & Head of Department, Medical Oncology, Fortis Hospital, Shalimar Bagh, talks about the risk factors, symptoms, diagnosis and treatment
Following are the reasons that may increase your chance of skin cancer
Fair Skin: The melanin present in the skin protects against harmful UV rays. Less melanin means less protection, thus, people with fair skin are more at risk of developing skin cancer than darker people.
Sun Exposure: Excessive sun exposure or sun burns can damage the skin, and increase the risk of cancer.
Moles: People with moles are at higher risk of skin cancer.
Hereditary: If somebody in the blood relation has had skin cancer, you are at higher risk of the disease.
Personal history: If you have had skin cancer once, there is a chance that you might develop it again.
Immune system: People with weak immune system also have high risk of skin cancer.
Exposure to certain things: People who have received radiations treatment or have been exposed to substances like arsenic are also at a greater risk of getting skin cancer.
Squamous cell carcinoma: It commonly occurs on face, ears and hands. It may appear as a flat lesion with crusted surface; or a firm red nodule.
Basal cell carcinoma: It generally occurs in areas that are exposed to sun, such as neck and face. It may appear as a waxy bump; a bleeding/scabbing sore that heals and returns; or a flesh/brown color lesion.
Melanoma: In men, it often appears on the face or the trunk; and in women it appears on the lower leg. In darker people, it develops under the fingernails or toenails, or on the palms or soles. It may appear as a brownish spot with darker speckles; a mole that varies in size, color or bleeds; a painful burning/itching lesion; dark lesions on palm, fingertips, toes or soles; or mucus membrane lining anus, vagina, mouth or nose.
The doctor may follow following steps to diagnose skin cancer:
Examine: The doctor may first look at the skin and confirm if the changes are likely to be skin cancer.
Skin Biopsy: If the doctor feels that you might be having skin cancer, he shall remove a part of the affected skin for lab testing.
Identification of Stage: If it is confirmed that you have cancer, the doctor will take additional tests to identify the stage, as the treatment is highly dependent on the stage of skin cancer.
The treatment varies depending on the size, depth, type and location of the lesion. Small skin cancers can be treated with initial skin biopsy, where entire growth is removed. If the cancer has reached a higher stage, the treatment may include freezing, excisional surgery, Mohs surgery, cryotherapy, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, photodynamic therapy or biological therapy.